I need to write a blog post, but all I can think of is the package of delicious Double Stuf Oreos sitting in the kitchen.
I could use them to bribe myself, but I already ate three…
Let’s face it, self-discipline and focus can be hard when you are self-employed.
Focus from Within
It might be easy to stay focused when we’re with students, but during the rest of the day when we are doing the less-clearly-defined work of growing our studios and careers, it can be a different story.
Unlike most jobs, we have no boss or supervisor monitoring our process or telling us how much we need to accomplish each day. We set our own goals, pick our own work hours, and create our own deadlines. There is no one rewarding us if meet those goals, and no one disciplining us if we don’t. It’s all on us!
Being self-employed can be amazing if you’re the kind of person who can stay focused and stick to your goals even when no one is watching. If you struggle with focus, like I sometimes do, here are a few strategies I use to keep myself on task.
1. Set routines
You’d think I spent time in the Army with the way I use routines. I have a morning routine, a writing routine, a pre-dinner routine, a weekend routine… you get the picture.
It might seem ridiculous, but these entrenched behavioral patterns help ensure that I complete the pesky, recurring tasks without requiring me to waste mental and creative energy on them. (Decision fatigue is a real thing!)
2. Schedule the important things
When I have a daunting project to work on, or there’s something that’s been on my list for a long time and I’m trouble moving it forward, I’ll schedule time to work on it in the upcoming week. I treat these appointments with myself the same way I would treat an appointment for coffee with a friend—I won’t miss it!
I’ve even been known to schedule “thinking time” when I really need to step back and look at big picture plans or think about a tough problem. It always surprises me what I can accomplish when I allow myself the time and space the project deserves.
3. Make a weekly plan
Every Saturday morning I block off time to review my short- and long-term goals and compare them to the items on my to-do list. It’s a chance to reevaluate what I have on my plate, remove the items that don’t fit my long-term vision, and choose the top priorities for the coming week. Starting the week with a plan helps me to stay on track and be more productive.
4. Eliminate distractions
Between cell phones, social media, television, and the internet, our lives are full of distractions. I usually work from my home office/studio, and if I’m having trouble focusing I will shut the door, hang a “Do not disturb” sign, turn off notifications on my devices, crank up some motivating tunes, and get to work. On really desperate days, I’ll work from a coffee shop, library, or park.
5. Set boundaries
When you’re trying to grow a music studio (or any kind of business), it’s easy to get into the mode of working non-stop, all day and all night. About a year ago, I decided I wouldn’t use my computer after dinner. I still have access to a phone and tablet during these hours, but these devices make doing “work” just enough of a hassle that I won’t bother trying. Besides getting to enjoy my evenings, this boundary helps me use my daytime hours more effectively.
6. Set the mood
As a music teacher, I don’t have to convince you of the power of music on one’s mood and attitude! I use this to my advantage. Listening to music with words distracts me, so I have a carefully curated playlist of energetic instrumental music to get me moving.
I also have certain playlists that I only listen to when I am writing. This helps my brain switch from “Oreo mode” to “writing mode” on command. (Well, kind of. 😉 )
7. Separate “thinking” from “doing”
This may seem strange, but when I have a multi-faceted or complicated project to work on, I often do the thinking and planning one day and the actual “tasks” of the project at other times. For instance, if I’m planning a recital, I might spend one day making a super-detailed list of all the relevant components and decisions I need to make (venue, music, food, invitations, program, plan for recording, etc.). After these tasks have been clearly defined, I divvy them up to work through on different days.
8. Optimize most focused times of day
In the mornings, I’m really eager to get up and get started on my day. I avoid morning appointments because I don’t want to miss my brain’s most creative and productive part of the day. By 1pm, my focus starts to fade, though, so that’s a good time for me to run an errand, listen to a podcast, or do something active.
9. Reward progress
I use rewards when I am working on a particularly unsavory or mentally-demanding task (taxes, anyone?), or when I have exhausted all other options and I am desperate to check at least one thing off my list so the day isn’t a complete loss.
Some days my reward is a mid-morning walk, other days it’s listening to a podcast over a long lunch-break. Today, it’s a cookie. 🙂
A reward can be anything that you enjoy and that motivates you. Giving yourself little rewards throughout the work day can also increase your feelings of accomplishment and stimulate you to push yourself a little further and get a bit more done.
So there you have it. Some of the many ways I keep myself on task and moving forward with my business work. I hope you will find some or all of these suggestions helpful in your own work. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for Oreos!